This is the true story of Thad Roberts, a NASA intern who stole pieces of the moon. I had never even heard of this incident until I read the description of this audiobook, but I saw Casey Affleck narrated and that sealed the deal. What could be better than my favorite Affleck reading about true crime?
Unfortunately, almost anything.
It wasn’t it about Affleck’s performance, his unique and intriguing voice was the highlight that kept me going. It was Roberts as a person and the way Ben Mezrich portrayed him.
Mezrich sets up the story with Roberts getting in trouble during his Mormon mission for admitting he’d had sex before. He’s kicked out of the mission and goes home a total disgrace. Which is rough, but I think Mezrich wants us to excuse Roberts’ subsequent actions because of a hard family life.
But Roberts doesn’t seem particularly troubled by his past. In fact, his motivations seem to be based entirely on his inflated ego. And that is not something I’m willing to accept as justification.
Roberts decided he wanted to be a NASA intern. So he changed his major, got his pilots license, his scuba certification, founded his school’s astronomy club, and bikes hundreds of miles with his wife for charity. Yes, at this point he is a married man.
This total life transformation is successful and Roberts is accepted into the program. And once there, he reinvents himself again to be a daring, incredibly social, member of the group. He also comes up with a dare to see who can break the most strict rules and get away with it.
Does any of this seem like a red flag to anyone else??
Mezrich even includes a story about Roberts stealing a fossil from a museum in Salt Lake and showing it off in his house because he thinks ‘more people deserve to see it.’ Red flags everywhere!
Then, as his internship is drawing to a close, Roberts meets a girl. I use girl on purpose; she’s young for the program as opposed to Roberts who’s one of the older interns. At this point, Mezrich informs us that Roberts relationship with his wife is deteriorating. Mezrich, or Roberts through Mezrich, puts the blame pretty squarely on the wife.
The biggest issue between them? Roberts thinks she and her model friends are vain and shallow. Which, is not a justification to cheat on your spouse. ALSO- does Salt Lake even have a model scene?! Roberts talks about being in clubs with these shallow models during his breaks and I’m like really? You expect me to believe Salt Lake is a mini LA? Anyway.
So Roberts wants to give this girl, who he’s only known for a few weeks, something huge and monumental. Something no other boyfriend has ever given a girlfriend (back to ego). And the perfect gift? The moon.
This next part is where the line between Roberts and Mezrich blur even more for me. Because the way it’s written, neither the girlfriend or a third friend that helps with the heist objects to the crime in any way. There are some misgivings about the feasibility of pulling it off, but neither of them mention that it’s illegal or wrong or they shouldn’t do it.
And I just don’t think that’s realistic.
They do in fact pull off the crime, getting away with an incredibly valuable bounty, in both monetary and scientific value. Best of all? They do it without leaving behind a scrap of evidence. In fact, they’re so successful it take NASA days to notice that anything is even missing.
Which is insane! They did the perfect job! NASA didn’t even know where to start looking for suspects!! Something that should have been impossible was pulled off without a hitch!
But if that’s true, how did they get caught? Enter, again, Roberts’ ego.
Roberts strikes up a conversation with random semi sketchy a pot head from school and asks him to help sell the rocks online. So they send out emails and notices to rock collectors.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME.
I was astounded by how dumb that plan was. You’re going to reach out to up standing citizens in the scientific and ecological communities and offer them very obviously stolen goods? One such upstanding citizen reaches out to the FBI who sets up a sting and catches Roberts easily.
But not before Roberts puts pieces of moon under the comforter of a hotel bed and has sex with his girlfriend on it.
Ugh. It was all so dumb. So Roberts goes to jail and Mezrich describes how thoughts of his girlfriend are the only thing that get him through. Who, conveniently, only gets probation. Except one of the conditions her Dad puts in place is that they can never speak again. That’s right. HER DAD. That’s how young she is.
Roberts spends his sentence reading, learning, and eventually writing a scientific paper that (according to everything I’ve read) is basically a joke in the scientific world.
Which brings us back to Mezrich. When reading memoir or autobiography, there’s always going to be an element of bias or perspective. But it seems like Mezrich is really trying his best to paint Roberts in a good light, to explain and excuse the crime because of love or pity or something. He’s unsuccessful.
I also can’t figure out why Mezrich wrote this story. It’s a fascinating premise, I was interested when I read the blurb, but it was actually pretty boring. We spend a ton of time on Roberts background and not very much on the actual crime. The ending was also odd, it wasn’t just that Roberts was sent to jail and then a brief overview of his time there; we got details on his thoughts and feelings and the repetitiveness of life behind bars.
Then he’s released and I was like, ok? He isn’t sorry at all that he committed a crime, the only regret he feels is in relation to his now ex-girlfriend and now he’s back on the outside. Why do I care? What was the lesson or revelation? And if there is none, and Mezrich has suddenly decided to stop giving us an angle on this story, why did he bother?
So yeah, Sex on the Moon lands in the hard pass category. If you do need some Casey Affleck in your life I recommend Oceans 11/12/13 or The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. All of which I’ve watched recently in my quest to watch all of Brad Pitt’s movies in 2020. #allbradallthetime